You didn’t want a baby and neither did I. There wasn’t a conversation, or even a decision to be made. We’d be broken up for years but I was too weak to let it go. I couldn’t remember the last time you were kind to me. I made an appointment; I emptied my savings. In the week of waiting between realizing and getting it taken care of, I stayed close to you because I didn’t know what else to do, and you tolerated me the best you could.
You knock on my door sometimes still, always in the middle of the night, always with your drunk voice calling out my name. My daughter leaves her bed at the first sound of you and spends the rest of the night sitting in front of the door, her ears alert, lips curled. I never told her about the times you hurt me. I didn’t teach her to hate you. I didn’t.
I didn’t want a baby, and I didn’t want you. You asked how I did it, but I have no explanation other than my desire to get away from you was just too strong. You think I used you, but I only used what you gave me. I turned it into something better, into someone only for me. The truth is, I liked the feeling growing something gave me. My whole life, I always wanted to be depended on. I spent years trying to take care of you. I wanted to take care of someone who would let me.
When I was a girl, I thought I was a dog. I told you these stories years ago, back when we first met, of how I spoke for months at three years old in barks and howls, whimpers and whines. Every night I crawled on four legs up the stairs to my bedroom and my parents let me sleep on the floor, my three-year-old body curled in a circle, my fingers twitching through dreams of squirrels. Even then, I knew what I would eventually become. Try to understand that you were never part of this.
The night before the appointment, I left your side after you were asleep and I crawled to the foot of the bed. I curled my body tight in a circle, my limbs tucked in close, my nose near my knees.
The appointment day came and went without me. I told you I’d meet you there; you took a long lunch and waited for me in the clinic parking lot, protesters screaming at your idling car. Meanwhile, I stood in my kitchen with a frying pan on the stove. First, I cooked bacon, then ground beef and chicken livers. I ate it all with my fingers, holding the morsels above my nose, making myself sit and stay, licking my lips at the smell of grease. I knew what I wanted.
I didn’t want a baby, and neither did you. Don’t forget that. You told me during the week before the scheduled appointment that you didn’t feel guilty about what we were doing and you watched my face closely to register my hurt. You didn’t know my stomach was full of meat, didn’t sense my body trembling at the excitement of leaving you for good. You were surprisingly understanding when I missed that first appointment, thinking that I just needed another week to get myself out the door, but when I missed the second, you grew angry and I stopped answering your calls. You thought I’d changed my mind and that you’d be tied to me forever, kept on a leash.
I kept quiet. No doctors, no fuss. Through the heatwave that summer, I fed myself a carnivore diet and kept to bedrest. You remember those weeks you tried to call? I wouldn’t let you get to me. I lay in my bed, hands on my abdomen, feeling the puppy paws. I dreamed of pink noses, of unopened eyes, of chirping newborn barks.
I thought you were pregnant, you said when I finally let you see me through the screen door. You stared at my unimpressive stomach, my glowing face. You called me a bitch. How could I not throw back my head and howl out a mournful laugh?
After it was done, I was too delirious to keep you out. You came over after my pup was licked clean. Her perfect, still-closed eyes, her pink, twitching nose, her slick fur. Standing over me and my pup, you could only manage the word, “How?” You couldn’t believe it. You need to see her for yourself. You tried to touch her but just before your hand touched her plump little body, I bit hard on your hand and you flew back, your head knocking against my bedroom wall. The wound on your hand bled onto the floor and you stared at it, as though in awe of it, or in awe of me. I glared at you, my canines more fangy than you remembered, my eyes a more yellowy brown. That was the last time I let you in.
We walk the city without a leash. No one has ever seen a dog stay so close to a human’s side. Together, we sit on park benches and turn our heads at the same sounds. Together, our eyes dilate at the sight of a squirrel climbing the trunk of a tree.
You and your dog even look alike, people say, and we do. The same amber eyes, the toothy grin.
I’m her mother, I say, without pause, because no one will believe me. She and I walk home from the park with the same lazy strides, our hindquarters swaying with each step, and every few yards, she reaches up to hold my hand in her soft mouth. You told me once I would never be happy.
One day, from the opposite side of the street, you caught us on our walk home. You jaywalked over to us and nearly got hit by a car. The way you looked at me. The way you looked at her, as though searching for yourself.
Can I pet her? you asked.
You held out your hand before I said no, never. There was the scar tissue in the soft flesh between your thumb and index finger, the hand you couldn’t keep to yourself. I tried to save you, even then, even still, but between your body and mine were my daughter’s raised hackles, her curled lips, her white teeth ready to snap.
Originally published in Mid-American Review